GAO Issues New Imported Seafood Safety Report as USDA Rejects 308 Tons of
Tainted Fish

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today said he is
heartened by success of the catfish inspection program, which has led to
greater assurances that untainted catfish is being served to American

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the public health agency
within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), assumed full
responsibility for domestic and imported catfish oversight on March 1, 2016,
as a result of Cochran-authored provisions in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills.
Following an 18-month transition period intended to provide foreign
countries and domestic stakeholders time to prepare and comply with the
final regulations, full enforcement began on Sept. 1.

One month into complete implementation, Cochran assessed the FSIS catfish
inspection program, which replaced a weaker Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) system.

“The Food Safety and Inspection Service inspection program is successfully
identifying and refusing imported catfish containing drug residues and other
banned impurities. The end result is that American consumers can know their
catfish is safer to eat,” Cochran said.

From April 2016 to September 2017, the FSIS has refused 88 shipments with a
total of 615,253 pounds, or 308 tons, of catfish from six countries
(Vietnam, China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Thailand). These
shipments were blocked for cargo containing chemicals or drugs banned for
use in the United States or for failure to meet other basic FSIS food safety
requirements. (FSIS data on import refusals is available here:

Cochran’s assessment also came as the Government Accountability Office (GAO)
on Monday released a report titled, “Imported Seafood Safety: FDA and USDA
Could Strengthen Efforts to Prevent Unsafe Drug Residues”
(GAO-17-443). Cochran requested the
study in 2014.

According to the GAO report, the FDA in 2015 tested only 33 samples of the
approximately 252 million pounds of catfish imported into the United States.
The report revealed that the frequency of FDA sampling and testing for
unsafe drug residues from fiscal years 2012 through 2015 declined by 75
percent, even as the volume of catfish imports averaged about 250 million
pounds annually during this period.

In comparison, the report stated: “According to FSIS re-inspection data,
from May 1, 2016, through July 9, 2017, the agency (FSIS) collected and
tested 382 samples from 195 shipments of imported catfish for unsafe drug
residues.” These actions exceed what FDA did over the past four years

The report also affirmed that, beyond food safety, both “FDA and FSIS agreed
– as FSIS assumed responsibility for domestic catfish oversight on March 1,
2016 – that there would be no duplication of the inspection and testing of
catfish between the two agencies.”

As of Sept 1, 15 countries had applied for equivalency with USDA and are
allowed to continue exporting to the United States unless they are deemed
out of compliance. In addition, 59 U.S. official import inspection
establishments have been approved by FSIS.